Thursday, February 27, 2014

Burke's Law or Never Ask A Question Unless You Already Know The Answer: EQNext, Landmark

One thing that got mentioned in passing during the recent " one character" teacup storm was that, despite a Round Table poll in which 97% of voters said they'd prefer multiple starting areas in EQNext, the current plan was for there to be just one. Well, that plan's changed.

I'd embed the YouTube video but it doesn't seem to be quite ready for that yet so in the meantime here's the link. It's only five minutes long but there's a lot to unpack. It's good news, on the whole, and quite encouraging for the new co-operative development process in some ways. I look forward to taking up my role as untrained, unpaid developer with a certain amount of trepidation but also a good deal of enthusiasm...bagsy me the Gnome Lands.

On the other hand I do hope they aren't going to be quite as flexible on this poll. All the developers quoted were negative on negativity. The players? Not so much...

Nearly half of all respondents want to be able to "negatively affect other players' gameplay" non-consensually, all the time. Hey! It really IS an Everquest game!

The Landmark alpha seems to have settled into something approximating a once-a-week patch schedule. For those who are still playing regularly it can seem glacially slow. Yesterday we got some useful UI improvements and very necessary bug fixes (including one that should have solved Isey's laptop problem).

The only actual new content added was a couple of chests. I had all the mats to make one of each, so that's what I did. They seem to work the same way they do in Vanguard. You craft them, you place them, you open them, you stuff them with junk. I don't have any junk to stuff them with just yet but it's only a matter of time.

So, that took up fifteen minutes or so, what with the run to the Donut Shop to use their crafting machines. That was all I planned on doing but then I started fiddling with my new stairs and then I had to build a wall and suddenly it was three hours later.

At the end of this week's  patch notes there's a trailer for next week which sounds far more exciting:

  • A new smoothing tool that should allow for much more intuitive behavior and results!

  • Claim permissions! When this is in, you’ll be able to work with friends to make even more amazing things!
  • 12 new islands and 2 new biomes! This will include new materials to build with, new props and new areas of the world to explore.
  • Attached claims! The ability to place another claim directly attached to an existing claim you own. This will allow for bigger builds or space to do more builds next to one another. 

 The new biomes are "Temperate" and "Snow" so Mrs Bhagpuss informs me. She got that from yesterday's Livestream, which she stayed up to watch. I haven't seen it yet - it's supposed to be on YouTube at some point but it hasn't made the Playlist yet.

With closed beta due to start "on or before March 31 2014" according the FAQ that only gives us another four updates before the cheap seats start to fill up. There was a suggestion that we might even see the first iteration of mobs in game before then but it's quite hard to imagine at the moment.

In the meantime a second claim should keep me amused for a while.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Cat In The Hat Strikes Back : GW2, Istaria

I had a few ideas of things I might write about this morning. There was the unexpected email from Istaria, the game that used to be called Horizons, David Allen's much-hyped MMO from 2003, which failed horribly at launch but refused to die. Not only is it still up and running but apparently it's thriving. "We've grown by leaps and bounds this year...Last year was the best ever for us here at Virtrium", they say, which is great news, not only for Virtrium's employees and Istaria's players but for all friends of the form.

We hear a lot of bad news about MMOs closing down, development studios downsizing and projects stalling. Massively dutifully reports each brief press release as one F2P bucket-shop MMO after another takes down the sign and closes the door. When a game who's name we might actually recognize,Vanguard, say, or City of Heroes, some MMO we might have a dim memory of once having played or having thought about playing, when such an MMO sets a sunset date, the blogosphere incandesces with outrage, schadenfreude and despair.

Such news strengthens the fears of those who feel the genre is in terminal decline, its best days long in the past, its present uncertain, its future bleak. The stream of closure stories encourages the narrative, growing in credence, that the whole industry took a bad wrong turn sometime back in the first decade of the 21st Century, when developers decided the best way to sell their games was to give them away.

I was going to say something about that, about how any narrative only tells the tale the teller wants to tell and that's half the story at best; about how the old school games we yearn for never really went away and whether we need Brad McQuaid's jam tomorrow when there's jam right here on the table today. And since Istaria is the only MMO that let's you play as a dragon I was going to work in a link to Syl. So that was one idea  might have gone with...

Then there was the comment thread that span up out of the day before yesterday's post. That raised some ideas worth pursuing and since my own replies were getting as long as blog posts anyway, why not give them room to stretch out even more? We seemed to be paring something down, examining the nuances of hardcore versus casual as something closer to a philosophy than a playstyle, considering elitism versus accessibility as a moral choice and there's much more to say in that discussion.

Then it occurred to me that here we all are, rehearsing the same arguments that must have been heard in salons and drawing rooms two centuries ago. The form changes, video games stand in for poems, but the substance remains the same. It's Romanticism versus Realism all over again, Enlightenment and Counter-Enlightenment, the Sublime vs. the Rational.

I think my days of trying to change anyone's mind on any of this are behind me. There aren't enough oak-panelled pubs, worn leather benches and strong, continental lagers in the world to see this one through to a result that anyone's ever going to accept. As I said in the thread "If you don't intuitively feel the difference I don't think it can be explained" and as Jeromai replied "We can agree to disagree". Which, the older I get, seems less and less like the kind of compromise I once would have condemned and more and more like the right, respectful, human choice. 

Still, I could have whipped something up around that and I was thinking it over when I switched my computer, my randomized desktop background came up with this and all my plans went straight out the window:

That's an unedited screenshot from one of GW2's beta weekends, graphic glitches and all, and it says everything to me about what was lost. Forget all the stuff about horizontal or vertical progression, zerging, Living Story, one-time or repeatable events. None of that matters. 

I was a tiger in a trenchcoat and a trilby hat!

I'm sorry to have to shout but it needs to be said, loud and clear. I. Was. A. Tiger. In. A. Trenchcoat. And. A. Trilby. Hat! And yet, unbelievable though it is, it gets better than that! Wait, let me just turn around...

 I was a tiger, in a trenchcoat and a trilby hat, wearing a backpack!

A proper backpack. That you can see. That you can see and which looks like an actual backpack. I could go on (and on) about how betas are better because everything is fresh and new and everyone's excited and open-minded and optimistic and how there's something new to discover over every hill and all of that would be true but it wouldn't tell you the real secret of why betas are almost always better than the Live game when it arrives. 

It's because no-one's asked the art department to come up with yet another set of skins for some holiday or achievement or raid so no-one's wearing anything that looks like they called Liberace in to design it because Carmen Miranda was worried she'd look under-dressed playing Joan of Arc. That's why! No-one's wearing an entire, working dwarven forge for a shoulderpad. No-one has armor that's on fire or has their paws in gloves made of lava, dripping hot gobs of molten metal onto the floor. No-one has Dr. Octopus arms or metal-jointed spider legs sticking out of their back. And most especially not one single person anywhere in the entire game has a bow that fires unicorns!

During one GW2 beta weekend I spent a whole Sunday farming leather from skelks near the Irondock Shipyard in Plains of Ashford  to make my own leather armor and when I was done my charr ranger looked fantastic. I was so happy. What I didn't know then was that was the best he was ever going to look.

As if that wasn't enough, here's another Charr I made in beta. I can't remember the class but she's wearing Light armor and as far as I can remember she never even left Black Citadel so those are almost certainly the clothes she started in. 

 She doesn't just look great, although she does look great; she looks better than any Charr I've seen since launch. It's true that Charr probably have the worst clothes and armor in the game but in beta we were blissfully unaware of what lay in store for us. I only played Charr in beta so I can't say if all the other races also looked better back then. I bet they did, though.

Now it may well be that all of these clothes are still in the game (except for the Charr trilby hat - not that I'm bitter...) and what's more, if they are, then anyone can easily transmogrify a hideous high-level abomination back into something tasteful, but that's not the point. The point is that GW2 has a progression mechanic partly built on the acquisition of gear that varies primarily by appearance, not by power and, like almost all MMOs, that gear appears to have been put together by a motorcycle gang working from bad photocopies of designs sent to them by Kiss's stage costumier, a sensibility that doesn't sit at all comfortably, I might add, with an ever-growing mini-pet collection clearly under the direct control of a five year old girl in the grips of a fever dream.

Or, if you prefer, none of it's much to my taste. And if you don't want to see your character wearing any of the things to which you are intended to aspire, and if you can achieve the stats you need easily and early with easily attainable items, then there really isn't much of a progression mechanic at all. 

And yet, as I mentioned at the end of my previous rant, GW2 remains one of the MMOs I enjoy the most, coming in somewhere around fifth if I was to make a list of my all-time favorites. I play it all the time and plan on doing so for a long time to come. Which, I guess, proves that an MMO doesn't really need a progression mechanic at all. Or something.

Now excuse me. I'm off to transmogrify my exotics. And see if that backpack is still in game.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

What's My Motivation? : GW2

It's Groundhog Day in LA! No, make that Groundhog Hour. Hold on, I have the tour schedule here somewhere...


      Lionguard Tours Presents : Burning Lion's Arch

10.00 AM - Your Lionguard representatives will be waiting at the entrances in Lornar's Pass, Gendaran Fields and Bloodtide Coast to escort you on your tour of Lion's Arch.

10.05 AM - There will be a brief display of local customs, including a martial arts performance, before we enter the Burning City. Please be aware that this is a full-contact demonstration so please be sure to wear the appropriate protective clothing.

10.05 - 10.40 AM - The following events will run frequently during your visit, approximately every ten minutes or so, giving everyone plenty of time to enjoy them all:

  •     Black Lion Dolyak "Stampede"
  •     Children's Parade
  •     Lighthouse Workers' Fun Run
  •     March of the Ogres

There will also be many opportunities to see spectacular displays of local customs and dress throughout the city, including the incredible Flame Legion Burning Effigies, the astonishing Dredge Mining Suits and, of course, the flamboyant Sky Pirates. So dashing! So debonair!

10.40 AM  
  • Moa Race (Please note: due to the potentially hazardous nature of the current course, this race is for entertainment only. No bets can be taken. We'll be sure to let you know if that changes. We do understand that everyone enjoys a little "flutter" on the birdies!)
  • Commodore Lawson Marriner's "Dignified Retreat" (Comedy gold!)

(Please also note that these two events take place at the same time so you will not be able to attend both on the same tour).

10.40 - 10.50 AM - Grand Finale!

  •     "Shadowstep Tag" with the Champion Molten Berserker
  •     Elite Aetherblade Display (meet at the Broken Lion)
  •     Jungle Wurm Fun and Games (a great one for the kids!)
(While these events can also overlap, you should still be able to catch at least a couple in a single visit).

10.50 AM - Tour Ends. Captain Magnus (The Bloody-Handed!) will call time across the city as your tour comes to an end. Please be aware that Burning Lion's Arch is still a working city (you may notice some drilling taking place in the harbor) so please heed the Captain's Call and make your way promptly to the exits.

Didn't get to see everything you wanted? Don't worry! Lionguard Tours understands there's just far too much to experience in a single visit. That's why a new Tour begins every hour, on the hour!

Come Early! Come Often! Bring Your Friends!


Is this the 3D photo booth?

Well, that's about what it feels like. Jeromai has a great piece up about the problems of getting players to take the whole thing seriously, but is it any wonder? How are we supposed to take any of this stuff seriously when it runs on auto-repeat 24/7?

It's a very well-rehearsed problem. GW2 was built on the concept of dynamic events and an ever-changing world but it's also a "game" and it turns out that the one thing players of games won't put up with is missing out on "content". ANet burnt their fingers very badly on the first ever GW2 mega-event, The Karka Invasion, (although I rated it rather highly) and ever since they've been in full-on retcon mode, retrofitting their dynamic world into something much more predictable and consumable.

The Escape From Lion's Arch update really brings into perspective just how far they and we have traveled since the Karka managed to knock down just the one lighthouse in Lion's Arch before promptly decamping for Southsun. This time supervillain Scarlet Briar's air armada arives in the skies above Tyria's unofficial capital, launching a devastating aerial bombardment that destroys most of the infrastructure in minutes. She follows up with a ground invasion and her seemingly inexhaustible armed forces take control. Lion's Arch burns.

There was more than one lion statue in Lion's Arch. Who knew?

And burns. And burns. For two weeks. On the hour, every hour, just to be sure no player misses out on the opportunity to finish his or her Meta (fifteen achievements, very quick and easy to get, just as well since the "reward" is nothing more than another hundred of the same little loot bags you already get by the score every single time you run the event). It also gives us all plenty of time to find the thirty piles of rubble needed for "Memories in your Hand", the solipsistic and selfish achievement that Commanders yell at you for doing when you should be rescuing citizens.

Ah yes, those poor Lion's Arch citizens. There they are, cowering in corners with massive yellow fists hanging over them like the wrath of some Simpsonian god or, worse still, lying unconscious in the street as adventures trample over them as they chase after the blue-doritoed pipers.

Is it really any wonder no-one cares about you, citizens? We rescued you an hour ago and now here you are, back in the exact same place! What did you do, sneak back in? Looking for your heirlooms, were you? Well get a clue, Lion's Archling - all your heirloom are belong to us! And you can dam' well rescue yourself this time!

Wake up, lazy cat!

The 1200 citizen rescue target isn't actually that hard to achieve. Like most things in GW2, if you want it done, do it at reset. I spent fifty fun minutes last night mother-henning the Ogre cave and environs, bucking up citizens, picking up Lionguards, speeding up ogres and generally aiding the cause. I estimate I rescued at least 50 citizens all on my own, although I had plenty of competition on and off from butt-inskys who wanted to rescue them first.

The main reason I was doing it is because working to achieve a shared goal is fun in and of itself and one of the prime reasons for playing MMOs instead of single-player games in the first place. God knows I wasn't likely to be doing it either because of the immersion factor (there isn't one) nor the for the reward (it's derisory). The best part of an hour's work during which a hundred or so people co-operate, largely against their own self-interest, nets you a shabby "Rare" bag containing more of the same inventory-clogging rubbish you already get throughout the event plus a chance at some old rubbish from previous events that you never wanted the first time round.

Perfect for those parties where everyone has to come dressed as a mechanical spider.
And there you have my real problem with GW2: I love the gameplay for its own sake but the "Living World" often feels like watching a news-reel on Repeat and when it comes to the "rewards" for participating there's almost never anything that interests me in the slightest. The armor and weapon skins are largely vile. I have literally never used any of the dozens I've acquired. Mini-pets and illusions are fleetingly amusing but I just can't get 1% of the pleasure out of them that others seem to find. The boosters sulk unused and unwanted in my bank. Even the Rares and Exotics I salvage just turn into unused stacks of ectoplasm.

As I read that post linked above describing the last time Lion's Arch was invaded I was struck not only by how much more immersive, compelling and memorable it was for being a one-off but by how much better the rewards were: "In the end I got a couple of rares and a couple of exotics, one of which I could actually use, and everyone got a 20-slot bag (worth about $10 in real money) and a level 80 exotic jewellery item. Some folks even got Legendary Pre-Cursors". A 20 slot bag, if you can believe it, which needless to say I am still using. That's the kind of rewards you can afford to give out when something only happens once.

4/30 today, 4/30 tomorrow, 4/30 'til the heat death of the universe

Horizontal leveling is great in theory and it works pretty well in GW2. I already had just about everything I needed a year ago. Now I can just play. It's taught me a valuable lesson about myself, though. It turns out I prefer rewards that increase my character's power significantly to ones that...don't. Oh, I've always known that the incremental upgrade path, where your new Mighty Legionnaire's Sword of Mightiness makes you 0.35% more Mighty than your old Mighty Soldier's Sword of Mightiness, doesn't work for me, and GW2's a bit like that even when you're leveling up but I never realized until I got there just how it would feel at 80th, where you'll spend almost all the time you ever play.

Now that's what I call a reward.
It takes a while but eventually the awful realization dawns: you'll never see a real upgrade, ever again. Oh, you can grind til your fingers bleed for Ascended gear but we got our wish there - it's the ghost-image of Vertical progression, not the real thing. You don't need it and if you get it you won't notice it. And it might still not be so bad if the cosmetic "upgrades" that make up the supposed alternative progression path didn't look like they'd been designed by a fifteen-year old Hair Metal fan on mescaline.

So, take away the visceral St Crispin's Day thrill of the one-time only event and replace it with Repeat Performances - Showing Every Hour, then lard heavily with pointless, worthless "rewards" I neither want nor need and there you have it: GW2 one year after the start of the Living Story.

So, here's my question: why am I still playing the heck out of it and having a great time anyway?

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Off Topic

Last July I gushed, wildly and irrelevantly, over the emergent events at Pronunciation Book. Things over there had gone all Secret World. There was a count down. It had 66 days to run.

Apparently 66 days is about 44 days longer than my attention span. I kept checking Pronunciation Book for a while but then I began to forget and then I forgot. Whatever happened on the 66th day apparently wasn't that earth-shattering because nothing popped anywhere in my field of vision to remind me. The world span on.

Last night I was flipping idly through my back pages as I often do and I happened to bring up that post. It was late and I was about to go to bed but curiosity kindled and I googled to Pronuciation Book.

This is what happened on September 24 2013.

Horse_ebooks is another internet phenomenon that passed me by (I really should stay in more...oh, wait...). It seems both Pronunciation Book and Horse_ebooks, internet darlings and meme-generators extraordinaire, were art projects, set up in secret and maintained for years by a guy working at New York based social news and entertainment website BuzzFeed and one of his pals. (Nope, never heard of it, either).

The backstory gets a skim-read in this New Yorker article. (Now, The New Yorker I have heard of). That piece skates over the furor but apparently The Internet didn't take too well to being duped for years by some New York media pros pretending to be semi-sentient spambots as this rather po-faced piece from New Republic makes plain. The Atlantic (is that anything to do with The Atlantic Monthly? I am old. I am old...) was more impressed, as was I. If nothing else you have to admire the commitment.

So anyway, there I was, up to speed after midnight and with the onward link to what this was all leading to, right there in front of me: Bear Stearns Bravo.

And what, pray tell, is Bear Stearns Bravo? It's a choose-your-own-adventure video game, of course! And what else would it be, after all those years of careful preparation and secrecy? All that time, effort and angst for this! Truly we are living in the end times.

It's pretty good, though. I was up 'til half-one in the morning playing through the first part.

Friday, February 21, 2014

It's Alpha! : Landmark

Pete at Dragonchasers has a thoughtful post up about why he's abandoned his daily Landmark diary. Along with the debilitating effect of visiting the forums (I don't think they're that bad - I've certainly seen a lot worse) and the completely understandable feeling that, for now at least, he's done about as much as he's willing to do in a test environment that's facing an inevitable wipe, Pete puts his finger on a potential problem that I've seen mentioned a few times:

"I’ve become kind of discouraged. Early on I was building stuff that I actually felt a little proud of, but every day we see a dozen incredibly awesome projects that make mine look like crap."

In the recent SOE Livestream there's a segment where they show a number of interesting player-made buildings and objects culminating in this, which is intimidating in more ways than one :

SOE Devs Not To Scale
Terry Michaels comments that when he came into work he found a dozen SOE staffers gathered around a screen in the Landmark offices marveling at this statue. When you're faced with competition from other players that even has the professionals gosh-wowing then yes, it could get discouraging.

At the moment there isn't an awful lot to do in Landmark other than build or prepare for building. You can work on your Claim, work on your tools or go out and gather materials so you can come back and work on your Claim and your tools some more. You can practice building, you can build or you can go and look at what other people have built.

Consequently the idea that people might, at some time in the future, want to play Landmark and not spend all their time building seems a bit hard to grasp right now. For some forum warriors, impossible. The uncomfortable fact, though, is that for all the Livestreams and Roadmaps we still don't really have anything like a clear picture of what Landmark will be when it throws open its doors to the non-paying public. With nothing else to give perspective at this stage, skill and imagination in building are fast becoming the defining orthodoxy of success against which some, possibly most, players feel they must benchmark.

Always pray for rain

If SOE are to be believed it won't always be like this. The forum motto "It's alpha" cuts both ways. Yes, "it's alpha" so don't be surprised if nothing works as it should (especially after last night's patch) but also, "it's alpha" so you can't draw any firm conclusions or make any definitive statements on how things are meant to be: much of the game simply isn't visible yet and anything that's there now might change at any time.

I think we have to take it on trust that the Landmark we get at launch will have a lot more to it than building for the sake of building. When that happens perhaps those highly-skilled builders will come to look more like a handy resource than a threat.

One thing we can be fairly certain is that creating, selling and buying templates of structures, objects and fully-developed Claims will be a big part of Landmark's gameplay. Pete describes the stable he was working on before he got disheartened. From his screenshots he seems to be underplaying his talents somewhat -  it looks like a pretty nice horse house. I'd guess that when Landmark is live there will be plenty of buyers for off-the-shelf stock items like that -  stables, smithys, shrines, statues - even some stuff that doesn't start with an S.

Sun, sea, sand. Well, two out of three ain't bad...

Let's not forget, too, that this is supposedly a sandbox MMO and where there's sand there's emergent behavior. When the crowds arrive, if the crowds arrive, gameplay could spin in unexpected directions. There's a short but interesting thread on the forums that raises the left-field idea of players renting out space in their huge mansions to other players, which drew some respondents to imagine renting space to NPCs and made me think of null-sec renting in EVE (something I only vaguely know about from reading TAGN and others and wouldn't claim to begin to understand).

Is it too far-fetched to imagine  something similar happening in Landmark, at least on open PvP servers, should they happen to come to exist? Do we really have any idea how important territory and ownership thereof is going to be? Or how permanent? Or how safe? Smed is a longtime, dedicated EVE player, after all...

In the end we'll all just have to wait and see how it turns out. Things may have slowed down a little after the frenzied excitement of the launch but the servers have only been running for three weeks and - It's alpha! The good thing about being in Alpha is we get to play now. The bad thing is - we get to play now.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

There Can Be Only One : EQ Next, Landmark

Yesterday's Landmark Livestream wasn't particularly interesting. It goes on for over an hour and I skimmed through it in about twenty minutes so I may well have missed a lot of important details. Feel free to watch it for me and point them out.

One thing I did not miss, however, was the part around 32 minutes in when, during a short discussion on whether Landmark will allow multiple characters per account, Terry Michaels says:

"...we've talked about it in both games, where having one character is really what we want to see people doing".

So, there you have it. Current thinking for EQNext is one character per account. That single design decision probably tells you everything you need to know about where the MMORPG genre is going and why so many long-time players are so uncomfortable with the direction of travel.

In the comment thread on Liore's post on $60 Level 90s at Herding Cats Electrolux observes "It’s bizarre how far we’ve come. We used to have fierce values. I guess we all grew up and realised it didn’t matter because it really doesn’t." Yes, it is bizarre and no, it really doesn't matter...except, of course, it does.

Electrolux goes on to conclude, possibly with heavy irony, possibly with the fervor of a Pauline convert, it's hard to tell, "They should just make vendors that sell BiS epics for RMT gems and be done with it. It doesn’t matter anymore. Just give everyone what they want for money. Sell all of the things. Do it!"

I understand his resignation or his despair or his glee, whichever it is. It's a nuanced situation, a slippery slope, a boiling frog, a welcome return to sanity. It's all of those. When you think of an old love, as Jonathan Richman asks, "Do you long for her or the way you were?" Cue Four Yorkshiremen sketch.

Insert thumpingly unsubtle illustration of pillars here - Ed.

We all have our own lines but the ever-shifting sand makes it harder and harder to see where we drew them. Twinking isn't a crime when it's heirlooms, Bottom Feeding is a healthy diet when you mentor down, if multi-boxing was bad why is hiring a merc good? It's Game Developer's Jenga - every last RPG brick pulled from the bottom, turned over and balanced on the top. Watch the MMO tower wobble. When will it fall?

When I heard Terry Michael's throwaway insight into the development process for EQNext at first I was incensed. One character per account for an Everquest MMO? Deal-breaker! I went straight to the Landmark Alpha forums, where I post as Thatdarncat, and began a protest thread but even even as I typed I felt my back-brain in motion.

An obvious workaround : EQNext will be F2P so if we can only have one character per account, why then, let's just make many accounts. Implications spiraled. Didn't I once object strongly to the whole account-bound ethic anyway? Didn't I argue that these are characters who have never met, who can never meet? Wasn't I against the Cox and Box life-share model from the get-go?

Good, then! Let your own deeds be the seeds of your destruction, SOE! You could have sold me character slots but now I'll just take them for free and have something closer to the gameplay I wanted in the first place. See how you like them apples! Thus do we rationalize away things we are powerless to affect.

Except, of course, in this case we aren't powerless, are we? Not according to SOE. In Alpha, every man his own developer, so we are told. Our opinions matter.

If the Landmark alpha/beta process is deemed a success, and there seems every chance it will be, EQNext will follow down that road. Who will be first out with the wallets, clamoring to be allowed to pay to test the next Norrath? Everquest fans, that's who, and while I'm sure the great majority will be happy with a game in which everything is bound to the account not the character, I just can't hear the roar of Everquest fans cheering for their bondage to a single character per account.

Either way, I will be making multiple characters in EQNext. If SOE have any sense they'll work out a way to let me give them money for that privilege but if not, well I'm pretty good at playing F2P games for free and my powers of both pre- and post-hoc rationalization are off the scale, yo!

Stickin' it to the man, 21st Century stylee!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Fall Of Lion's Arch : GW2

She came with her machines, her mercenaries and her madness. That brittle filigree of bridges, beached ships, strung wires, broken. A hammer against glass. Beauty burned. Fire in the harbor, smoke on the sea, green, green poison in the air.  

Where are the children now? "Run! A monster!" The skritt-wife recants her scoldings, glad for the sewers she scorned. The bank is broken, the counting house down. Combat beats commerce, every time.

So fragile, so lost. Yet, we resist. Scarlet's resources boundless, her hordes endless, her will relentless, still we stand and as we fall, we rise.

Though the Lion lies broken the pride of Lion's Arch endures. Bring it to the ground yet will we raise it up once more. Until that day, we do what we can, what we must.

This is not over. This is no end. We will prevail. Fight on, Tyrians. For Lion's Arch. For the Lion!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

All The MMOs I Have Ever Played (And Then Some) Part 1

The other day I came across a password for Mimesis, an MMO I had long forgotten. I can't even remember playing it but I must at least have signed up for some beta or other. That got me to wondering just how many MMOs I have played over the last decade and a half. So I made a list:

Aerrevan - I think this might be a Canadian MMO, possibly the only one ever. Spent quite a few hours in the starting area. I always had an unreasonable affection for it, considering it was almost unmitigatedly terrible. Never saw any other players in game or heard of anyone else playing it. The website is still up but the game isn't.

Aika - Typical Eastern MMO. Quite pleasant, passably translated. Got to about level eight or nine. It's still running.

Alganon - The infamous David Allen/Derek Smart controversy engine. I quite liked it in beta, although it was laggy as hell and patently incomplete. Post-launch it was laggier still and unplayable, at least for me, something it has in common with David Allen's previous effort, Horizons. Almost unbelievably this is not only still running but just produced its first expansion.

Allods - Another controversy generator. Really liked this in beta. Beautiful world, enjoyable low-level gameplay, great sense of humor. Got to about the mid-twenties, I think. Didn't go on to play it at launch partly because of the notorious cash-shop issues but mostly because while I liked the start of the game I could see the later levels weren't for me. Went back for another run a year or two later and had fun. Still running and getting updates. I may well play again.

Anarchy Online - My first beta. We were all on dial-up back then and Funcom sent out the beta discs in the mail. Bought it and played throughout the extended free period that followed what remains possibly the worst MMO launch in history. Didn't subscribe when they finally started requiring payment. Went back and played some more when it went F2P. Had a lot of fun there, on and off. Game's still up. Might take another look if they ever get that graphic reboot up and running.

Argo - One of the best Eastern MMOs I've played. Passably translated, simple but effective art design and just very comfortable to play. I made an Allaplaya account to play this and then they closed it down. Yet another black mark against PSS1. Possibly still running in some territories. Would play again if I could..

Asheron's Call - Bought and played back when there were very few MMOs and you were glad for what you could get. Even so I only put in a few hours and had stopped well before the end of the free month. Not my cup of tea at all. Still running.

Asheron's Call 2 - Never played it in it's brief lifetime but curiosity led me to try it out when it unexpectedly returned from the dead. Didn't like it any more than the first one. Still running, to everyone's surprise, although I believe it's only available if you are subbed to AC1.

Atlantica Online - Horrible game that I never really understood. Very, very ugly to look at. Played maybe two or three sessions then uninstalled. Running.

Celtic Heroes - Mobile MMO for iOS. Very reminiscent of Everquest. Would play if I had an iOS tablet but iPod Touch is just too small. Running.

Champions Online - Played when it converted to F2P. Got to about level eight or nine. Given that I love superhero comics it's surprising how hard I find it to enjoy superhero MMOs. Still running, although no-one ever mentions it anymore.

City of Heroes - Speaking of superhero MMOs, the grandaddy of them all. Beta-ed this and enjoyed it but found it too repetitive to imagine playing long-term so I declined to buy it at launch. Now sadly and famously defunct.

City of Steam - I have a long history with this game, thoroughly documented on this blog. One of the great could-have, should-have stories of MMO development. An opportunity missed, to put it mildly. Running and I am still nominally playing although I haven't logged in this calendar year.

Clone Wars - Played once or twice. Surprisingly enjoyable. Closing down in March. Kind of wish I'd played it more...

Crowns of Power - Great, little-known indie MMO with a classic feel. Got to the high teens, which took quite a while seeing speed of leveling was very similar to early EQ. Now closed, unfortunately. Would play again.

Dark Age of Camelot - Failed to get into beta, bought at launch, played solidly for six months and remained subbed for more than a year. Highest character topped out in the low 40s. Never hit max level. Enjoyed it a lot at first but over time PvE became too grindy (much more so than EQ was at the same time) and open-world PvP was far too inconsistent (so many evenings spent running about looking for someone to fight). Played a lot of Battlegrounds on weekends, the first instanced PvP I'd ever seen. Still running.

Darkfire - Have a password for this but no memory of it whatsoever.

Dark Solstice - Waited years for this 2.5D effort to appear and by the time it finally hit beta I'd lost interest. Putzed around for a day or two and never went back. Never released, not sure if development continues.

Dawntide - Ambitious sandbox project that never happened. I spent an ungodly amount of time in this thing considering so little of it ever worked. The world felt very "real" somehow, even if nothing about the gameplay (what little there was of it) ever did. Development discontinued.

DCUO - As a lifelong DC fan I was always going to try this. I got into the beta and had a great time. Bought it at launch and played it intensely for a short while. Made nominal max level (20) which might as well be the tutorial for all the relevance it has to the main part of the game, a never-ending gear-and-rep grind of the harshest stripe, as excellently, entertainingly and sometimes despairingly chronicled by Tipa. Went back briefly when they added housing. Running. May play again.

DinoStorm - Really excellent little MMO. Very slick and well-made. Original and unusual setting. Always busy when I was playing. Put quite a few hours into this and blogged about it some but haven't played this year. Running. Definitely will play again.

Dofus - Peculiar French MMO (that may be tautologous). Very highly rated by some but not by me. Bored me rigid. Running.

Dragon Empires - The MMO I was most excited about that never happened. Still got my password for the website.

Dragon Nest - I spent a good few hours in this popular and visually delightful action MMO. Never got very far but always had fun while I was playing. Running. Might play again.

Dragon's Prophet - An abominable experience in early beta but considerably improved later on. Too bland for my tastes, both visually and mechanically. No surprise to find this is from the people who made Runes of Magic. Running.

Drakensang - A German browser MMO that I disliked. That's as much as I remember.

Dungeons and Dragons Online - Hated it in beta. Really, really hated it. A claustrophobic mess. Heard it had improved so tried it again when it went F2P. It had improved - a lot. Played for a few weeks but it does get very repetitive and not in a good way. Running.

Dusktreaders - Got a password for this but no memory of what it is/was.

Earth And Beyond - Don't think I ever actually played this short-lived MMO although I do have a password. Vaguely feel I might have done but if so it obviously made little impression.

Eden Eternal - Cute, bouncy, Eastern MMO for which I have an inexplicable soft spot. Used to be one of my late-night wind-down favorites. Not played for a long time but might well play again one day. Up and running.

Earth Eternal - Had big hopes for this cartoon animal version of Everquest and played it extensively in beta and less so after launch. It turned out to be worthy but somewhat dull. It had a short life before it closed down, whereupon it was bought in a bankruptcy auction by a company planning to release it in Japan. As far as I know they never did.

Endless Ages - An early favorite from the days when you took what MMOs you could get and thought yourself lucky. This was a open-world PvP MMO/FPS hybrid, making it one of a field of two with Planetside at the time, I guess. It had a crazed and quirky setting, demented races and some cracking jet-pack physics. It even had housing. I played it in beta, a lot.

Entropia Universe - Ultra-weird MMO famous for RMT trades involving tens of thousands of dollars. Played briefly in beta. It was barely-playable rubbish then. Must have something going for it, though because it's still around.

Eternal Lands - Very poor. Neither know nor care if it's still running.

EverJane - In post-successful KickStarter development. Played the tech demo, which was...interesting.

Everquest - Best. MMO. Ever. That is all. Countless thousands of hours played. Not only still running but running on seventeen servers and always busy whenever I log in, which isn't nearly as often as I should.

Everquest 2 - Another mainstay. First played in beta, most recently played the day before yesterday. Fit and healthy or so we trust.

Everquest Next Landmark - In Alpha and looking good.

Face of Mankind - Did  ever play this? Not entirely sure. If I did it was only for an hour or two.

Fallen Earth - Really great, original, unusual MMO. Bought this at launch and played heavily for about 8-10 weeks, getting into the 20s. Been back several times since it went F2P. Another of those many MMOs that well deserves time I just don't have to give. Still running. Will play again.

Ferentus - Unfinished Eastern MMO that never came out of beta. For some curious reason both Mrs Bhagpuss and I really liked it. Would have played it had it ever launched.

Final Fantasy XI - Stylistically charming, typically quirky MMO from Square, wrecked by an insane UI. I eventually forced myself to learn to use it but it was never comfortable. Also famously solo-unfriendly with everyone long since parked at the end-game. I made it to something like level 17 I think. Still running and getting updates regularly.

FFXIV - Diabolical in beta and the same at launch. Barely playable and yet you could always tell there was something in there. Considering how unrewarding it was I put in quite a few hours. Despite heavy retro-fitting post-launch it never got traction until its second coming as..

FFXIV:ARR - There or thereabouts the game FFXIV should always have been, I had a lot of fun in this during beta and in the free month that came with purchase of the game at lunch. Has been one of the real success stories of recent MMOs but the gear/faction grind and storyline-locked progress model meant I chose not to subscribe.

Firefall - Very promising SF-set MMO/FPS that has suffered badly from directionless development. Played a good few sessions last year and always enjoyed it. Reminded me very much of Endless Ages. Never going to be the kind of MMO I would get heavily invested in but I remain very interested to see how it progresses. In development but open to play and I will.

Flyff - The original flying MMO, in which I never flew. Didn't get that far. A bit lke Earth Eternal in that it felt worthy but just a bit dull. Still going.

Free Realms - SOE's famous first foray into F2P. A huge fuss was made about this and it was all a bit of an anticlimax when it came. Looks gorgeous and was one of those MMOs that I always thoroughly enjoyed when I was playing it but never thought about when I wasn't. Closing down in March.

Gatheryn - Another of the alleged "steampunk" games that has no discernible steam or punk in it. Well, it didn't when I played it briefly in beta, when it was a small series of rather dull mini-games. It never made it out of beta. Can't say I'm surprised.

Gods and Heroes - Could never get this to run. Don't think I missed much. It's gone now.

Granado Espada - Otherwise known as Sword of the New World. An odd MMO where you control several characters at once. Didn't get on with it at all. Still running.

Guild Wars - This was promoted as a PvP title before launch so we were a little late buying it. When the reviews that came back were very positive and all about the PvE we got on board a few weeks after launch and really enjoyed it. I completed the original campaign and stopped after about six weeks. Mrs Bhagpuss lasted a few weeks longer. I had a couple more runs later on and I own all the expansions although I have only really played Eye of the North. Almost finished it, too! Game is still running but only in maintenance mode, the success of GW2 having killed off further development on the elder title.

Guild Wars 2 - My main game for the last year and a half. Two accounts, nine max level characters, thousands of hours played, over 5000 screenshots taken, many blog posts written... It's nowhere near perfect but it probably makes it into my top five MMOs ever played. And in fact, I'm off to play it right now!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Who Knows Where The Time Goes? : EQN Landmark

Oh heck! Another day gone and what have I got to show for it?

Well, I learned how to make an archway - after a fashion. I also learned how to superimpose a texture on pre-existing terrain, and how to extract a texture from pre-existing terrain and superimpose it on something else. That kept me amused for hours.

I also taught myself how to distress and deform voxels to simulate weathering. Fine in theory although in practice it's a bit like a Minor Threat gig - too many straight edges. Still, pretty shabby if I do say so myself.

SOE did something to the day/night cycle recently. I'm sure I never saw those clouds before or not in those colors. It had a side effect of ramping up the intensity of torches and other lighting effects to the point where you need to wear sunglasses indoors. Which, naturally, I do all the time anyway. All we hyper-cool '50s and '60s cats wear shades after dark.

It was never my intention to build some kind of Thomas Crown Affair mountaintop hideaway, all right angles, cutaways and vertiginous drops from the terrace. It just happened.

Certainly if I'd planned it I'd have had the terraces descending in extending tiers, not overlapping each other and casting constant shade. It did, however, give me the chance to learn how to excise a massive chunk of masonry and cut and paste another chunk in its place.

At the moment a great deal of the interest, what I guess you might call the "gameplay", comes from learning to use the tools. They're pretty limited and I don't know how much that's down to Alpha and how much is voxels. I've seen a good few complaints on the forums suggesting that Voxelfarm, the licensed software that Landmark uses, can be a good deal more flexible than we're seeing so far so my bet's on "it's Alpha, dummy!"

Dead grass in my planter. I live in the desert and we don't have water yet so what can you do? Another thing I learned today was how to use Alt-Select to grab textures that aren't in the standard gimme set. Doesn't help much. I can see live, green grass from my claim that looks very much as though it's in the same biome but can I get it to grow on my patch? Can I heck as like!

So there we go. I'm quite scared, I'm not ashamed to admit it. I've been here before after all. Barely any of the good stuff is in yet and already days are vanishing like summer mist. If they give us Storybricks I may never be seen again.
Wider Two Column Modification courtesy of The Blogger Guide